Visitors who stay at cabins in Georgia state parks will continue to be able to read the Bible. After the state attorney general looked into the issue of whether religious literature should be provided in government-owned lodging, it was decided that the Bibles could stay because the state did not pay for the books. Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the Bibles returned shortly after.
Deal noted that any religious group can donate literature, and that since the state didn’t pay for the Bibles, it wasn’t necessarily endorsing them. The Bibles are donated by Gideons International, an evangelical Christian group based in Nashville, Tenn. A spokesman for Gideons said he wasn’t sure how many Bibles had been distributed in state parks and that it had never been an issue in the past, Fox News reported.
Ed Buckner, an atheist, first raised the issue.
"I think government entanglement with religion is a very dangerous thing," he said in an interview. "When you go into a state park cabin and the only piece of religious literature there is a Protestant Bible, that suggests the government endorsed that particular perspective."
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Buckner may test the state’s claim that it will accept other types of religious literature. He would also be willing to participate in a lawsuit if an organization that shares his beliefs wants to get involved.
Edward Queen, a professor at Emory University, doesn’t really see a legal issue.
"The fact that you have an inherently sectarian religious document on state property, that in and of itself presents no real challenge if the state has not purchased it," Queen said. "Where it might possibly become an issue is if the state were to refuse to do the same thing for other groups."
Bill Nigut, the Southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, notes that although people might be accustomed to seeing Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, they might be uncomfortable if they were replaced with different religious texts.
"What if it were the Hebrew Bible? What if it were the Koran?" he said. "When you frame it in that context, I think it's a little easier to understand why people who are not Christians could be uncomfortable seeing the Bible in a hotel room."